Economics, Education and Unlearning


The Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) have produced a compelling analysis of the failings in economics education and set out a road map for reform.

Praise for Economics, Education and Unlearning

This report addresses a real need, for a more pluralistic and varied approach to the economics curriculum at university level. The mainline of economics from Adam Smith onwards is diverse and often departs from the current mainstream and the way that the subject is taught needs to recognise this. I welcome this contribution to discussion about the way we should explore the living tradition of economic thought and the light it casts on the contemporary world.

Dr Stephen Davies

Education Director, Institute of Economic Affairs

This is a very important Report by the Post-Crash Economics Society. They explore the existing curriculum in careful detail, displaying the narrow theoretical monoculture which characterises not only Manchester’s curriculum but most economics degree courses in the UK and, indeed, the world. They outline what they think the curriculum should be: a programme geared to the problems of the actual economy through history, using the diversity of analyses that have developed through the years. The Report is a landmark: scrupulous, well-informed, passionate, it is required reading for every head of an economics department and highly recommended for everyone interested in the future of economics.

Victoria Chick

Emeritus Professor of Economics at University College London and co-founder of the Post-Keynesian Economics Study Group

The Report

“It is time to rethink some of the basic building blocks of economics”. These are the words of Andrew Haldane, Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, in his foreword to this report. Economics is in crisis. The profession is under attack from the media, employers and the general public. The economists we are producing are not performing the tasks society demands from them. The Financial Crisis is the obvious example of the current problem but by no means the only one. Worries about climate change are escalating to crisis levels. Massive wealth inequality is creating a backlash from think tanks, journalists and academics alike. Unemployment in Europe and beyond is motivating ordinary people to demand answers from the powers-that-be; the powers-that-be then continually defer to economists to provide these answers.

Economics, Education and Unlearning looks at what we, PCES, believe to be the problem; economics education. If economics education isn’t fit for purpose, it will not produce the skilled economists we need and society will suffer as a result. A rethink of the discipline is required or else failures in economics, such as the Financial Crisis, will inevitably be repeated. The support of Andrew Haldane, demonstrates how important this issue is to those who run our economy. We also enjoy the support of prominent economists from across the political spectrum including Lord Robert Skidelsky, Ha-Joon Chang and Stephen Davies. The push for change within economics is gaining momentum. Articles published about PCES in the Guardian were in their top 5 most read articles of the day and received up to 17,000 shares on Facebook, as well as starting a debate on the blogosphere that reached as far as Paul Krugman. We have since been discussed by the Financial Times, the Economist, the Times, the Washington Post and the BBC among other organisations. This report marks the next step in a debate about economics education that has caught the public imagination.

I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws, or crafts its treatises, if I can write its economics textbooks.

Paul Samuelson

What’s in the report?

The report moves the story forward by making it easier for the press, policymakers and the public to understand the issue, as well as outlining proposals for change. It is a detailed, evidence-based argument outlining the shortcomings of economics education at the University of Manchester. However, its implications are far broader than a single university. The homogeneity of economics education on a global level is well documented and the widespread frustration with it is evidenced by the existence of similar student movements in countries from China to Chile, from India to North America and all over Europe. Students are in revolt. With fresh insights and perspective we, the children of the financial crisis, are determined that the economies that we create will do better. The future is in our hands and we refuse to repeat past mistakes.

What’s wrong with economics education?

Economics education is monopolised by a single school of thought commonly referred to as neoclassical economics. Crucially, very few economists working within this mainstream predicted the Financial Crisis. Afterwards many concluded that the best predictions came from those economists that had been marginalised by the mainstream. Despite this alternative perspectives are still close to non-existent in undergraduate programmes. We demonstrate this through a detailed analysis of Manchester’s syllabus, which itself is representative of economics syllabuses around the UK. This lack of competing thought stifles innovation, damages creativity and suppresses the constructive criticisms that are so vital for economic understanding and advancement. There is also a distinct lack of real-world application of economic ideas, with the focus being on abstract modelling that often seems devoid from reality. Finally, the study of ethics, politics and history are almost completely absent from the syllabus. We propose that economics cannot be properly understood with all these aspects excluded.

We end the report by presenting achievable short and medium-term changes that we believe should be adopted by Manchester. We believe that overall the report shows that Manchester and other universities have a responsibility to ensure that the academic environment within Economics departments is open and representative of the diversity of economics. They must do so not only to retain their academic integrity, but also because the public nature of economics means that they have a social responsibility to ensure greater value on critical skills and diversity.
In this report we combine the energy of our campaign with the professionalism and academic rigour necessary to substantiate our arguments. We believe the only way to succeed in our aims is to collaborate with economists across the discipline, and we intend for this report to open discussions that will propel our movement forward and stimulate progressive conversations across the board. Whilst it condemns the current state of affairs, it should be seen less as a negative document and more as our first offering to an essential, global discussion; a discussion that should demand the attention of all who are interested in the positive development of society.